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Aug 22, 2023 02:55PM ● By Kara Schweiss
Symphony Workforce CEO tyler tobert todd smith

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

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Tyler Robert is on target with his accounting coursework to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2025 and intends to eventually earn master’s and doctoral degrees. He’s already working as a tax preparer for Liberty Tax, and even serves as a marketing and branding coordinator for Kinstler Brown Companies (the franchisee) and another partner, Selectel Wireless.   

Robert’s impressive path actually started when he was still a sophomore in high school and discovered the Find the Why! platform through a local nonprofit, Symphony Workforce. 

“My thing was business. [Symphony Workforce CEO] Todd Smith was a guest speaker in my Accounting I class,” Robert said. “Todd was talking about the hustle and the grind. And that was a big turning point in my life.”

Robert said he felt undervalued working at a buffet restaurant as a 15-year-old. 

“Then here comes this guy who’s saying, ‘Hey, companies need you. They need your knowledge, your experience.’ It felt like a sign from God…I got a group together, decided to compete, and I was the first-ever winner of the [Find the Why!] finalist competition. And I’ve kept doing it ever since. I think I’ve only missed two challenges out of all they’ve done the past four years, and I’ve won probably a little over $10,000 in total.”

Smith said Symphony Workforce Foundation created Find the Why! (formerly Find Your Genius) to provide young people ages 13 and up with the chance to discover and explore careers and potential employers and also the opportunity to be recruited by companies seeking young talent. Find the Why! is accessed through a mobile app—which appeals to students raised in a digital world—and presents a challenge for them to propose solutions to real-world company problems in a gamified environment. Through Find the Why!, young people discover and explore postsecondary options at their own pace, Smith noted, and winning a challenge includes a cash prize. Even the non-winning participants build an automatically generated digital resume and can still be recruited by companies for employment or internships or access college scholarship opportunities. 

“Businesses post their actual problems on our platform for students to choose which one to solve. We call them ‘challenges,’” Smith explained. “Students engage with businesses, virtual advisors, and assessments to provide critical data to both themselves and businesses in order to make the right career/hiring decisions.” 

Examples of past challenges include redesigning a combine harvester (CNH Industrial) and developing a mental-health solution for teens (Goodwill Industries of Greater Nebraska). Other participating organizations have included Hawkins Construction, OPPD, Quantum Workplace, and Chick-fil-A. 

Students can take part in as many challenges as they have an interest in, and participating companies not only ingratiate students to their organization, but also aggregate student-volunteered data, Smith explained. Companies identify potential future interns while students determine potential “good fit” employment, so everyone benefits. 

The Find the Why! challenges are always interesting, Robert said.  

“We did one where we designed a light rail system from Omaha to Lincoln. That was one of my favorite challenges to do,” he recalled. “When Black Lives Matter was going on, and the ‘defund the police’ [movement] was going on, there was a nonprofit organization who sponsored a challenge to redesign how police training will go. That was also a really fun one…every challenge has a place in my heart […] but I would say I’m definitely more attracted to the engineering-based and social issues-based ones.”

The prize money is certainly appreciated, Robert said, but he finds the mental exercise of contributing ideas and delineating solutions even more rewarding. 

“[It’s] showing them you can do more than the world thinks you can, showing that you can solve these big problems that companies have,” he explained. “A lot of times with my generation, people tend to look at us and think, ‘They spent their whole life in front of a phone and video games and TVs…’” 

Robert said that Find the Why! has renewed and reinforced his confidence in his problem-solving abilities, and it’s helping him navigate the modern workplace.

“You are able to have any problem come your way and solve that issue instead of complaining about it and waiting,” he said. “The only ‘impossible’ is the one that we make for ourselves.”

Symphony Workforce has developed partnerships with local organizations including Omaha Chamber members involved with CEOs for CODE, an opportunity, diversity and equity initiative. Any student can participate in Find the Why! but Symphony Workforce is also working with educators, including via a new initiative with Omaha Public Schools, to introduce thousands of students to Find the Why! opportunities in the classroom. Symphony Workforce has also established a partnership with The Simple Foundation, whose target population includes underserved youth.

“Nebraska is pouring a lot of funding and focus into student retention and career awareness,” Smith said. “Our governor has the aforementioned effort front and center, evident by his speech at the [May 25] Aksarben Stakeholders meeting and at a Willa Cather event in Washington, DC. We are looking forward to partnering with Nebraska’s leadership as we engage more than 30,000 Nebraska students, businesses, and post-secondaries together multiple times this 2023-2024 school year that produces actionable data/outcomes.” 

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This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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